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Media Release Jan 2006


Commercial Fishing Industry "Up the Ante",

in the Kahawai Legal Challenge

6 January 2006

Kahawai Legal Challenge Media Release

Kahawai Challenge Team


At a time of year when many Kiwi's are enjoying the pleasures on the water, a legal showdown is shaping up off the water in the form of a test case brought by amateur and recreational fishing interests. The case is brought by the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council Inc and the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council who hope to obtain a High Court decision which will better define the public's right to fish. The two Fishing Councils represent the many hundreds of thousands of amateur and recreational fishers from around the country. The case is backed by non-commercial fisheries advocacy group "option4", and supported by Northland Maori, Ngapuhi.

In a move that is expected to "up the ante", the commercial fishing industry represented by Sanford, and the Sealord Group, together with a holding company for other commercial fishing interests, Pelagic and Tuna Limited, have today issued a counterclaim against the Minister of Fisheries recent decisions for the 2005/2006 fishing year. Sanford's are the largest industry player and operate a purse seine fleet which targets kahawai, based in the Bay of Plenty.

The judicial review proceedings in the High Court challenge the Minister of Fisheries' 2004 and 2005 decisions over the management and allocation of the kahawai fish species, and have been set down for a hearing in the Auckland High Court in mid 2006.

Responding to widespread public concern about the state of near shore fisheries, last year, the Government announced a new policy to manage important recreational fish species above the rate that will allow maximum sustainable yield for fish stocks, known as "BMSY". It is predicted that management above BMSY would leave more fish in the water for non-commercial fishers (including recreational and customary Maori fishers), and allow the fish to grow to a larger size. The previous minister, David Benson-Pope announced that he would review his year old decisions on the kahawai species, which had been introduced to the quota management system on 1 October 2004, and was considering a 10% cut to assist a rebuild of kahawai stocks. In the latest decision by the Fisheries Minister which came into effect on 1 October 2005, (but which has been left to the new Minister, Hon Jim Anderton to announce); the Minister has backed away from making the 10% cut based on any policy decision to manage above BMSY.  Instead the Minister says that this will be the subject of further advice by officials, and makes the 10% cut based on uncertainty as to whether or not the stock is above or below BMSY, and the conflicting information from the non-commercial and commercial fishing sectors. The Minister has now implemented his decision giving effect to a cut to the annual total allowable catch of kahawai in all areas, to be reduced by 10 percent, reduced pro-rata or "proportionally" across the board for both the commercial and non-commercial fishers.

The Fishing Councils are taking the case to protect the fishing rights of the non-commercial fishing sector.   The key objectives of the Court proceedings are to:

  • Ensure that "more fish are left in the sea", so there is a return to better fish catch rates; and
  • Clarify the Minister of Fisheries' decision-making powers for amateur and recreational fish species.

Mr Keith Ingram, the president of the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council says that he believed that the proceedings involve important legal questions which will clarify the rights of the fishing public, and have not been determined in the 20 years since introduction of the quota management scheme in 1986.  

Mr Keith Ingram said that through its national, regional, and club members, the NZRFC is a "broad church" representing a large and diverse group of New Zealanders. He said that some studies have estimated that there are over a million New Zealanders who fish for food and for fun.  

Mr Ingram said it was important for anyone who has an interest in recreational fishing to "watch this space". He said there has also been the recent announcement that the Ministry of Fisheries has appointed an external consultant to carry out a review of recreational fishing rights. I believe that "these matters confirm that there is a very live public interest in these proceedings." He said "this case is not just about the humble kahawai, it's about how the Minister takes into account the public's right to fish under the fisheries legislation".

Mr Jeff Romeril, president of the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council, who represents 60 sport fishing clubs from around the country, says, "for over two decades, our members have been reporting a serious decline in many key fish stocks. Our club members have reported a huge decline in the availability of kahawai from the late 1980's. The decline in the number and size of kahawai schools is important to our members both as a target species and because of their important flow-on effects to other fisheries, especially the large pelagic species, " said Mr Romeril.  

Mr Romeril said that the large fishing companies have the extensive mid and deep water species such as hoki, dory, and orange roughy species virtually to themselves as they are well beyond the range and catch methods of most recreational fishers. "It is therefore somewhat annoying when it comes to the near-shore species such as kahawai, that recreational and non-commercial fishing interests must suffer as commercial companies continually advocate and fish to extract the maximum possible yield. This exposes all users to the real risk of over fishing, and in the case of kahawai to considerably reduced access to the fish as bulk inshore fish schools are removed. Of particular concern with kahawai is the fact they have very poor commercial return, often only enough to pay for a vessels fuel to harvest them." It's better use of the resource to leave them in the water for the public to catch, and for future generations, than for these fish to be used for low value purposes such as being sent to Australia for crayfish bait or be used as processed pellets for fish food."

option4 project leader Paul Barnes, himself a former commercial fisher, says that he expects that the court proceedings will "flush out" problems with the management of near shore fish species. He stated that "usually when fisheries need rebuilding the commercial sector demand proportional cuts are made to recreational catches or they want compensation". The main argument seems to be that if only commercial quotas are cut, then somehow this constitutes a "re-allocation" of fish from commercial to recreational fishers, and undermines the commercial quota rights.   Mr Barnes said that this risks making decisions to avoid the possibility of facing claims for compensation. He said, while a further cut to the fishery to allow socks to rebuild is 'a step in the right direction', at the same time the Minister is making equal cuts to commercial and recreational allowances in kahawai. He said that to non-commercial fishers these proportional cuts are unfair because "recreational fishers and customary Maori fishers are being 'punished' for problems caused by excessive fishing by purse seiners in the past".

The Fishing Councils attribute the current low numbers of kahawai schools that is especially noticeable in some areas to past over-fishing by commercial purse seine fishers before the entry of kahawai to the quota management system. The Fishing Councils have decided to bring the proceedings as a test case to clarify the legal situation, and in the hope that the proceedings will result in future decision-making which will improve the quality of fishing for the public of New Zealand. The Kahawai Legal Challenge is being funded by a public fund raising campaign.


For information contact:

  • The New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council Inc - contact Keith Ingram (027 458 4747)
  • New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council Inc – contact Jeff Romeril (021 573 474) or Richard Baker (021 869 889)
  • option4 – contact Trish Rea – (0274 175 121)



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